By Kathleen Knowles
To many people around the globe who are suppressed by governments, America is the symbol of freedom and opportunity. For Nike (pronounced Nick) Gashaj, the American dream has become a reality.
Nike Gashaj was born to Mirash and Drande Gashaj in Albania and lived in the north on the border of Montenegro which is separated by a lake. In 1990 Albania was beginning to break the communist rule of the country. Nike was 18 years old when he fled his homeland. He, his brother, his cousin, and another friend swam four hours in order to cross the lake to escape the communist regime.
As refugees, the young men stayed for two weeks in Montenegro. From there they went to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. With the help of the American government, they remained there as refugees for about four months. Nike and the other young men came to the United States with the support of a church, immigrating to New York. They were then moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where they were given a house to live in.
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Nike began working in a Greek restaurant. The owners of the restaurant realized immediately that he was a hard worker. “They were really nice people, and they were very supportive of me,” Nike said. Despite enjoying his job, there were no other Albanians living in Philadelphia. After 4 or 5 months, having discovered that there were other Albanians living in New York, the young men decided to join them to live with the Albanian community. Nike took a job at Little Italy in Manhattan where he remained for six or seven years. Yet, his dream was to have his own restaurant.
His cousins were living in Detroit. They decided to get together. “At one point, we were 12 first cousins living here in Michigan. Our big family from over there became our big family here.”
The Port Huron area reminded Nike so much of his life back home by the lake . . . a small town where the people were friendly. “I moved here roughly 18 years ago.” Nike has been married for 20 years to Laureta. The couple has five daughters; twins, Angela and Ariela, Gabriela, Giana, and Flaviana. “They are the most special thing in the whole world to me,” he stated with pride. His restaurant was named after them. “They are like roses to me. So my wife and I had to come up with a name for the restaurant. We called it Nick’s Four Roses.” Since that time, the fifth daughter has been born. Could there be a change of name in the future for the restaurant? Nick’s Five Roses?
Nike started his restaurant about 10 years ago when the economy was in less than stellar condition. There was a lot of unemployment and everyone was struggling for money. He made the decision to have a large selection of food that would not cost too much money, but would be good quality home cooking.
The goal was to keep the prices as low as possible. Nike said, “We had to work really hard because there wasn’t much profit with the low cost of the food.” He wanted to give people a nice place to eat while keeping the prices as low as possible. As a result, there wasn’t money to advertise. The business was built up by word of mouth. “My customers advertised for me.”
Nike said that at the time he was searching for a place to start his restaurant, the shopping center on 24th Street was not very busy. For the type of business he wanted to build, a large parking lot was essential. Still, it took some time to build the restaurant as he was struggling with having enough money to do so. He was able to get support from family and friends who helped him.
The next decision was to decide on the decor. Nike would stay home and draw every night. “I drew to figure how things would fit with the space. What could I do with it to best serve my customers?” Once he decided, he had the blueprints printed. “I wanted to do something special for the people in this town, so that they would have a nice special place to come and enjoy their meal.”
When asked why he did not base the menu around Albanian food, Nike said, “I didn’t have much experience cooking in Albania. Most of my experience cooking was here in the United States. I always try to study my customers and what they like. I try to remember, and I learn from the customers; I try to give them what they want.”
If one has eaten at Nick’s Four Roses, they have discovered that the menu is extensive. He stated that it is a bit complicated for his employees. There is so much for them to remember. He tries to have a mixture of American food, Greek food, Mexican food, and Italian food. In fact, there was so much to learn that Nike had to work 15 to 16 hours a day and do most of the cooking himself in the beginning.
Nick’s Four Roses started with 12 employees. Today it takes 25 employees to run the restaurant. They have to cover the hours from 6:00 a.m. in the morning to 9:00 p.m. at night. There are six to seven cooks who have to know how to cook everything on the menu. “Whenever I get a new guy, I have to stay with him two, three, or even four months to help him out and make sure he knows what he is doing and can cook everything.” Most of the cooks are experienced. Some of them have been cooking for 20 to 30 years. “The number one thing to me is to cook with love. I love what I do and I want to come up with the best quality I can possibly produce.” Does Nike ever get tired of cooking? His answer was a very firm no.
He is also considerate of his employees whom he realizes are an important part of his business. On Thanksgiving Day, the restaurant will be closed. His employees have requested time to spend with their families. Since Nike has a very strong sense of family, the request was easy to grant.
Will he be decorating for the Christmas holidays? Nike said that they decorate for every holiday. However, Christmas is the most special holiday of the year to him. Since it was illegal in Albania to celebrate Christmas, Nike said his family had to do it quietly and illegally. As a result, it is a very special time, and he gets very excited for Christmas every year. Nike holds a Christmas party for his employees yearly. Their families are invited to eat free at the restaurant, and he gives his employees a bonus the best way he can.
When asked if he would recommend to others to come to America, Nike said he would. Because of what they see on TV, they believe that life in the United States is luxurious. “Most people do not realize that if you come here, you have to work a lot. Sometimes I make a joke. I’ve been here for 30 years, but I’ve been working for 50! I have been working double all the time. If you want to be successful, you have to stay on top of it. You have to give your all to make it work.”
Asked if there were any plans for a second restaurant, Nike said his customers continually ask him if he is going to open a restaurant at the north end of town. He said he has thought about it, but it is important to him that he spend time with his family. Who knows? Maybe down the road when the kids are grown up, we’ll be able to talk Nike into another restaurant!
Nike is particularly proud of their breakfast entrees. Everything in the restaurant is freshly made. He has been cooking breakfast all of his life, and he has fun doing it. Breakfast is only a small portion of what is served. The menu is extensive. There is very little you can think of that you will not find on the menu at Nick’s Four Roses. They have breakfast items, salads, side orders, coney dogs, hoagies, pitas, burgers, soups, and sandwiches. Dinner items range from roast turkey, New York strip steaks, pork chops, roast beef, meatloaf, baked ham, chicken cordon bleu, chicken tenders, Italian cuisine, Mexican food, and fish. It also features a children’s menu as well as a senior menu. This is but a few items one has to choose from.
If you have never eaten at Nick’s Four Roses, it’s time you try it. Once you do, you will undoubtedly become a regular!
Nick’s Four Roses
1329 24th Street
Port Huron, Michigan 48060
Monday through Saturday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
New Years Eve Day – Closed at 2:00 p.m.
New Years Day – Closed
Day before Easter – Closed at 2:00 p.m.
Easter – Closed
Independence Day – Memorial Day – Labor Day -Open 1/2 day
Thanksgiving Day – Closed
Christmas Eve Day – Closed at 2:00 p.m
Christmas Day – Closed